- Jim Bowden, ESPN Insider
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Albert Pujols’ name already is often mentioned among a trio of baseball legends – Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds. His prodigious career thus far has earned him that nod of respect, as well as a mammoth 10-year, $254 million contract in December from the Los Angeles Angels, which is justifiably the 2011 Transaction of the Year.
The speed with which the deal was completed, as well as the sheer financial numbers turned baseball’s annual winter meetings on its head. But there also was symmetry; Pujols left the only team he’s ever known, similar to Ruth, Aaron and Bonds. And as the sport’s best active player his departure was made all the more curious by St. Louis’ zeal to sign teammate Matt Holliday to an extension rather than Pujols. Despite his accolades and production Pujols never felt he got a full market value offer from the Cardinals. Likewise, the Pittsburgh Pirates knew Bonds would leave after the 1992 season, seemingly too expensive to re-sign.
To many, the historical significance of his deal was on par with Boston’s selling of Ruth’s contract to the New York Yankees in 1919, if not equal to Bonds leaving for San Francisco or an aging Aaron traded from Atlanta. Indeed, there’s little doubt Pujols eventually will rank among that trio of home run hitters, so perhaps it was a move destined to happen.
In a complex, three-team trade that involved 11 players, the Cardinals netted several players who were integral to their World Series championship run. On July 27, they sent former No. 1 pick Rasmus to Toronto, which had coveted the 24-year-old Rasmus for some time. Knowing that the departures of Pujols and manager Tony La Russa were distinct possibilities after the season, trading a talent like Rasmus was worth the risk to try and win now. Without role players such as Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel, Mark Rzepczynski, the Cardinals’ run might never have reached the heights that it eventually would.
Tigers President/CEO and general manager Dave Dombrowski’s main intent in acquiring right-hander Doug Fister on July 30 from the Seattle Mariners was to improve his team’s fifth starter. Production from that slot in the first half of the season had proven disastrous. In Fister, however, they got a No. 3 starter. With Fister’s off-balance approach, the Tigers said good bye to the rest of the American League Central and said hello to the playoffs. Like the Cardinals, it is likely their postseason run would never have started without this trade.
The Houston Astros were selling, and the Phillies needed another right-handed bat. Pence had always been an above-average player, but after he arrived in Philadelphia on July 30, he completely changed the offense and became one of the team’s best players. Even more significant was the fact the Phillies did not surrender either No. 1 prospect Domonic Brown or emerging right-handed starter Vance Worley. Instead, the Phillies gave up a decent package including pitcher Jarred Cosart and first baseman Jonathan Singleton.